Questions arise after Richmond Mayor makes ‘game changing’ coliseum proposal

RICHMOND Va. --  Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney pitched his new coliseum plan as a game-changing economic development opportunity. One he said that would create thousands of jobs, build affordable housing, and give millions of dollars in opportunities to minority businesses.

However some people, including the Richmond City Council President Chris Hilbert, have questions about how Richmond will pay for Stoney's $1.4 billion project.

To pay for it, the mayor has proposed a special tax district that encompasses a large part of downtown Richmond.

Any new tax monies collected within the district would pay down the debt used to finance three parts of the plan that totals roughly $300 million.

The rest, the mayor said, would be financed privately.

“This project represents a $1.4 billion investment that does not raise taxes and does not incur financial risk to the city,” Mayor Stoney said in a Thursday announcement. "Richmond is one very large step closer to not only transforming its downtown, but the future of neighborhoods, schools, and services throughout the city."

"It's a serious proposal, and we're ready to study it and look it over from top to bottom," Hilbert said.

And while Hilbert said he liked many parts of the proposal, it's the size of that special tax district that concerned him.

"I don't want to lose that money that we're getting from the downtown development to help spur this north of Broad development," Hilbert said.

Part of the mayor's proposal involved tearing down the four-decade-old Richmond’s Coliseum and build -- in its place -- the largest arena in Virginia.

There were cheers inside the Richmond Coliseum Thursday evening, but not necessarily for the mayor's proposal.

"My granddaughter is nine years old, and we got here just in time to see her," Richmond resident George Whitfield said.

For the 33rd year, students from around the city showed off their moves at the 'Cheerleading Jamboree.'

"We've been coming to the Coliseum for this for years," Richmond resident Bashan Scheurer-Henry added.

The event help bring life to the 46-year-old building.

But, people here said it was time for something new.

"I think it's long overdue we need a new building, I'm all about bringing big stuff to Richmond let Richmond grow," Whitfield said.

In addition to a new arena, the mayor's plan includes thousands of apartments and a hotel for the Navy Hill neighborhood north of Broad Street.

"For me, this is not about a new coliseum. This is about what this project allows us to do. If we do nothing we do not create over 20,000 jobs," Mayor Stoney said. "If we do nothing we will not build nearly 700 new affordable homes. If we do nothing we will not generate a billion dollars in revenue that can be used to make critical investments in our neighborhoods – our schools, our streets, and our services."

"This area, in general, is rich in history," Scheurer-Henry said. "To preserve that as well as lift it would be awesome."

But Scheurer-Henry  is worried, based on the city's track record, that things may not go as planned.

"They say that in the beginning and then something always comes up and there is something else that come out of your pocket that you have to pay for," Scheurer-Henry said.

The mayor is expected to officially pitch his proposal to the city council at its next meeting.

We talked to a couple of other council members off camera who told us they are hopeful about the project, but they have questions they still want to be answered as well.